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 Animals  India Project #21710

Help Save Elephants in India

by Wildlife Trust of India
Help Save Elephants in India
Help Save Elephants in India
Help Save Elephants in India
Help Save Elephants in India
Help Save Elephants in India
Help Save Elephants in India
Help Save Elephants in India
Help Save Elephants in India
Help Save Elephants in India
Help Save Elephants in India
Help Save Elephants in India
Help Save Elephants in India
Help Save Elephants in India
Help Save Elephants in India
Help Save Elephants in India
Help Save Elephants in India
Help Save Elephants in India
1) Sensitizing the villagers through Godha Naach
1) Sensitizing the villagers through Godha Naach

Increasing human population and infrastructural development are leading to the fragmentation of forests. As a consequence of this, the habitat for wild animals is shrinking at a very fast rate.  Elephants are highly intelligent, long-ranging animals that follow their traditional routes to move from one place to another in search of food. Their migratory paths are hindered multiple obstacles by irrigation canals, factories, national highways and railway lines, which leads to rise in human elephant conflicts. 

Over the last decade, instances of human-elephant conflict have seen a sharp incline in Odisha. The Chanadaka-Dampara wildlife sanctuary, Bhubaneswar holds about 90 elephants in a small and degraded forest of about 190 sq km. Seeking refuge, these elephants wander in rural lands and patches of forests in Athgarh forest division. Whenever the herd emerges out of the sanctuary at night in search of food, thousands of people materialise out of nowhere, and starts abusing the elephants relentlessly. The herd is being harassed and beaten with wooden stick for no reason. The mobs of people surround the herd and don’t allow their passage. This has become a kind of entertainment for the people every evening in Athgarh forest division. Similar incidence was reported in Dhenkanal forest division, where irate villagers trapped the elephants migrating from Sunajhari and Kantajhari reserve forest in the middle of the fast flowing Brahmani River. This was done in retaliation for crop losses and damage caused to their houses by elephants.

To avoid the replication of shame incident of Athgarh forest division, a rapid action project was initiated in Dhenkanal to provide safe passage for the elephants. Along with monitoring for human elephant mitigation, the primary response teams (PRTs) are also conducting night patrolling with Forest dept and keeping a vigil on the conflict prone villages. The team members are ensuring that villagers do not block the elephant’s migratory passage. To change people’s apathy towards elephants, it is crucial to sensitize the affected communities and foster awareness about the species. The PRTs also conducted sensitization programmes with the help of a local folk media popularly known as Godha Naach (Horse dance) villages under Meramundali & Dihadol Forest Sections of Dhenkanal Forest Division.  Godha Naach is a traditional folk dance dedicated to the goddess of fisherman community. The program was aimed to build the relationship between communities, primary response team and forest department. The first such program was arranged in Sridiha village. This program was used as a platform to disseminate the message of conservation of the elephants among villagers since the Godha Naach attracts a huge number of people. The chief artist known as ‘Gayak’ (singer) composed the folk lore on the several topics related to conservation of elephants, their role in ecosystem, history and causes of conflicts. Various reasons of elephant deaths like electrocution, poisoning, dehydration, poaching were also mentioned in the lore. The people were also introduced about elephant corridors of Dhenkanal and compensation schemes available. People wearing the dresses which look alike horses, performed the dance, and hence it is called Ghoda naach (horse dance). Instead of the fact that villagers are badly affected by the conflicts, all of them showed their interest in the event. They made arrangements for the visitors, listened to the gayak and understood the importance of elephants. Nearly 400 people witnessed the program along with the Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) Miss. Rinku Kumari (IFS) and Mr. Bibhuti Bhusan Pattnaik, (FRO), Dhenkanal range.

To bring it to a larger extent, more such sensitization programs were conducted in the conflict prone villages. The proverb “Walls do speak” says that paintings/hoardings done on walls helps in communicating the message to larger mass of people. Apart from sensitization programs, wall paintings were also done in strategic locations like community buildings, bus stop, forest quarters and gram panchayat office to reach out the message of elephant conservation to the villagers. The wall paintings will deliver the guidelines to provide the right of passage to the elephants and how to deal with the conflicts. 

A herd of wild elephants in Dhenkanal
A herd of wild elephants in Dhenkanal

Elephants migrate from one forest to another in their established routes. However, due to rapid urbanization and development, these routes are facing a high level of degradation and fragmentation which inturn leading to many instances of negative interaction between elephants and humans. Dhenkanal district in Odisha holds a good population of elephants. Recently, few worrying cases came into media limelight, where locals in retaliation against the crop raiding elephants surrounded elephant herds in the fast flowing water of the Brahmani River. In response, WTI field team conducted several meetings and discussion with the locals. Their concerns were noticed and they were made aware about the importance of elephants in the landscape. Ten response teams have been formulated (based in all conflict sites across Dhenkanal) who will assist FD staff for Human Elephant Conflict (HEC) mitigation. These teams are constantly monitoring the area, acting as informers for the Forest Dept. and are also involved in sensitizing their fellow villagers towards elephant conservation.

In a recent case, one of the village response teams witnessed a herd of 20 elephant near Kumushi village of Odisha, The herd was protecting a pregnant elephant that was about to deliver thus, was not moving from the area. For over 10 hours the team kept a constant vigil on the herd to protect them from any anthropogenic threat.   After the calf was born the elephants moved to a nearby hill. The team followed (through a safe distance) the herd and accorded adequate protection for three continuous days, till they moved in dense forest. Forest officials acknowledged and praised the members of the response team for this conservation effort. 

Roaming in the field
Roaming in the field

Elephants have vast home ranges and tend to migrate between areas seasonally. In recent decades, a growing human population and its myriad developmental needs has led to the degradation and fragmentation of forest habitats, bringing humans and elephants into increased contact and conflict.

Dhenkanal district of Odisha, which accounts for the 2nd highest elephant population in Odisha after Similipal National Park is interspersed with villages and crop fields is reeling under frequent negative encounters with humans and damage to crops and habitations.  Since 2010, 402 elephants and 354 persons have reportedly been killed due to Human Elephant Conflict (HEC) in this region.

Recently, Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) was made aware of several instances where elephants migrating from Sunajhari and Kantajhari Reserve Forests were being trapped in the middle of the fast flowing Brahmani River by irate villagers on both sides. This was done in retaliation for crop losses and damage caused to their houses by elephants. WTI with support from Charities Aid Foundation - India (CAF India) is trying to ensure the passage for elephants by addressing the concerns of locals and involving them in the process of finding solutions. Response teams have been formed among the targeted villages. The teams have been equipped, trained to safely drive and deter wild elephants from conflict sites. They were also charged with sensitising fellow villagers about elephants and acting as forest department informers about the location of elephant herds.

Sagging electric lines had caused number of deaths of the gentle giants which roamed freely in the forests and also in private lands. Similar issue was informed by one of our response team in targeted village to DFO. After looking into the perspective, two new poles have been installed as correction measures. The spikes have been fitted at height which is higher than elephant’s height. Another response team on NH-55 is providing passage to elephants and also advising the people to keep their smaller vehicles behind the heavy vehicles for safety reason. The team provided the protection to newly born calf of an elephant for about three days until the both of them found a safer place to survive. Forest officials acknowledged and praised the members of the response team for this conservation effort.

Through continuous monitoring, the response teams will try to control issues of conflict in the area and ensure that villagers do not block elephants’ migratory passage. Addressing conflicts with elephants will further help marginalised people while avoiding the greater risks towards these large herbivores, thus saving the lives of both animals and humans. 

Preparing of response teams
Preparing of response teams
Picture 1
Picture 1

Ronga Reserve Forest, Assam, August 26, 2016: A wild ‘makhna’ (tusk-less male) elephant was chemically restrained and treated for an inflammation of its right foreleg on August 18. This marked the end of an operation spanning two weeks and involving multiple attempts by IFAW-WTI veterinarian Dr Jahan Ahmed, assisted by Dr Rinku Gohain and working with Assam Forest Department personnel, to sedate and treat this particular elephant.

The following is a first-hand account of the operation by Dr Ahmed:

A Clash of Titans
On the evening of August 3 our Mobile Veterinary Service (MVS - North Bank) received a report from the North Lakhimpur Forest Department that an injured makhna had been seen in the Bogoli beat under the Harmutty Range of Ronga Reserve Forest. We proceeded to the location the next morning but the elephant was in a densely forested area and as forest officials were unable to get a fix on its exact location, we could not intervene.

Two days later we received news that the elephant had been located. Forest staff chased it to the Bogoli River where a forest guard and I were waiting atop a ‘kumki’ (a specially trained Forest Department elephant), ready to dart it and administer the required treatment.

We saw the makhna emerge onto the river bed. It was massive, about a foot-and-a-half taller than our kumki. It had a large swelling at its right shoulder joint and was dragging its foreleg. The moment it saw us though, it charged, ramming into our elephant from behind. Our mahout, a young chap, didn’t panic. He turned the kumki towards the wild elephant and met it head-on. As the elephants battled I tried desperately to get a clear shot and dart the makhna. I did get my chance but with the rapid movements of the two elephants – and of the rather frightened forest guard behind me – I missed.

Both elephants were still fighting in the ankle deep water. We had started out near the east bank but were now on the west bank of the river. The Range Officer Rubul Pathak, DFO B Vasanthan and ACF N Das were about 150 metres away, watching the scene unfold. The makhna was now running away and our kumki gave pursuit. It was getting dark and they were running into dense forest, so the forest guard and I decided to jump off.

The Last Dart
Over the next few days we tried in vain to locate the elephant. Then, on the afternoon of August 10, it was sighted in a small stream, moving towards the river. We reached the spot and a ranger fired a dart, but missed. The makhna was moving towards the forest again when we prepared and fired another dart. It struck the gluteal muscle but didn’t fall off. It had malfunctioned. Another opportunity lost, and it was already evening; we packed up for the day.

Dr Rinku Gohain joined me on August 12 having brought more darts from CWRC. Forest staff were constantly monitoring the makhna’s movements but it was deep within the Ronga Range Forest, making any sort of intervention impossible. Finally, on August 18 we learned that it had been spotted near the Harmutty Tea Estate. We prepared two darts and I and a forest guard approached the elephant atop a kumki. It was just about 250 metres inside the forest, but since it was lying down in a thicket we couldn’t get a clear shot. We decided that it would have to be chased toward the tea garden where we would lie in wait. Unfortunately, again, things didn’t go according to plan – the makhna ran the other way, deeper into the forest!

Dr Gohain had to leave at this point to attend to an abandoned elephant calf in Dejoo Tea Estate. The forest was too dense for us to proceed on elephant back, so a forest guard and I went in on foot. We saw the elephant taking a mud bath in a swampy area. I fired a dart and it struck near the tailbone. It fell off after about five minutes and we collected it to see if the sedative had been delivered properly. We followed the makhna for about 40 minutes; it was drowsy but not yet sedated, so we fired two top-up darts.

Ten minutes later its trunk was fully relaxed and we could safely approach it on the kumki. It was 9.5 feet tall and in good health apart from the huge swelling at its right shoulder, towards the antero lateral side. There was no external injury; the area had calcified and there was no pus. I administered long acting antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, anti-histamines and multi-vitamins.

After about 20 minutes the elephant moved its hind limbs. I applied a topical spray on the dart injuries, and administered an injection to counteract the anaesthetic.

We came away from the area. The makhna was seen an hour later, fully recovered from the sedative. It was browsing on grass and creepers as it moved off into the dense forest.

Picture 2
Picture 2
Picture 3
Picture 3
Articles seized were measured before cataloguing
Articles seized were measured before cataloguing

Since 2010, the Enforcement & Law project team of Wildlife Trust of India directly supported the authorities in conducting over 40 seizures, resulting in the arrest of about 170 suspects, all over India. This includes Operation- Shikar, which resulted in one of the largest operations in the country’s trade-control history: seizure of 487 kgs of ivory in Delhi, and subsequent arrests of 73 suspects (for poaching, ivory-trafficking, carving and trade).

2 October, 2015: In a carefully planned operation, a kingpin of the ivory trade was apprehended by an enforcement team comprising the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) and Kerala forest officials during an early morning operation at Delhi. The suspect was involved in the ivory trade.

The suspect was taken to Kerala where several cases were registered against him.

On 11th October, 2015 a covert operation was conducted by a group of officers from Kerala Forest Department, Wildlife Crime Control Bureau and Delhi Police which led to the seizure of 487 kg of ivory in Delhi. The much needed technicaland legal assistance was provided to the Kerala State Forest Department during the arrest and seizer by Wildlife Trust of India (WTI).

 

Due to numerable factors and fundamental differences between the wildlife offences and other forms of crime, the conviction rate in the wildlife offence is much lesser than other forms of crime.

Therefore, to address the complexity of the Wildlife offence, WTI followed up the arrest and seizer of the large ivory consignment by providing legal assistance to the Kerala forest Department.WTI has also inducted a designated legal expert who will provide assistance to the investigating officers in the elephant poaching and ivory cases which are registered in Periyar Tiger Reserve of Kerala Forest Department, Kerala. 

The primary job of the legal expert will be to provide legal assistance and advice in matters related to court cases and filing of documents in reference with the ivory trade and elephant poaching registered under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. The assistance will ensure speedy trial, convictions, proper documentation and filing, it will also ensure to boost the confidence of the forest officials.

WTI has replicated the legal assistance model in Periyar Tiger Reserve after successfully  addressing the complexity of the legal assistance in Kanha and Pench Tiger Reserve since 2013.

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Organization Information

Wildlife Trust of India

Location: Noida, Uttar Pradesh - India
Website:
Project Leader:
Sahil Choksi
Noida, Uttar Pradesh India
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